Retro-Themed Sports Cards Make the New Old Again

This 2001 Topps Heritage card of Cal Ripkin uses the 1952 Topps design.

In this modern era of baseball-card collecting, there are a wide array of brands and products from which collectors can choose.

For collectors returning to the hobby after a several year hiatus, or for those of any age just getting started, the marketplace for new products can be a bit overwhelming.

From simple products like Topps Opening Day Baseball that cost just 99 cents a pack to high-end offerings guaranteeing autographed cards and those manufactured with pieces of game-used memorabilia costing several hundred dollars, deciding which products to choose needn’t be a challenge. Collectors can look to the past to keep it simple.

It is quite common in today’s baseball-card landscape for trading card manufacturers look to the heritage and tradition celebrating America’s Pastime for new product ideas and inspiration. As a result, several successful retro-themed products have been created and provide collectors a means of connecting with the past while collecting players from the present.

With its long and storied history as a baseball-card manufacturer, the Topps Company has a wealth of tradition to draw upon in designing its products. As a result, one of its most successful brands is simply called Topps Heritage.

Topps’ 2012 Archives cards used the 1977 design, as evidenced by Reggie Jackson’s vintage card and Derek Jeter’s more recent issue.

An annual release since its creation as a standalone product in 2001, every issue pays tribute to a set from the company’s past by utilizing that specific year’s card design and insert elements to create a brand new product with modern players. In so doing, Topps is able to tug at the heartstrings of nostalgia in older collectors who may have actually collected the original release. Simultaneously, recycling an older design provides newer collectors a crash course in hobby history.

The 2013 Topps Archives cards, this one featuring the autograph of Mets pitcher Jesse Orosco, based their design on the company’s 1986 set.

The 2001 Topps Heritage set started with the classic 1952 Topps design, which was the company’s first traditional card set. Every subsequent year has seen a new creation designed in chronological order.

In 2013, the most recent version of the product, tribute is paid to the 1964 card design. Next year will feature the design originally utilized in 1965, and so on.

With the roots of the hobby dating back to an era when baseball cards were originally packaged with tobacco products, it’s only natural that modern trading card companies pay homage to that era as well. Over the last several years, some of the most cherished tobacco sets of all time have been updated with their modern equivalents.

From the classic T206 and T205 cigarette cards to the eclectic offerings from turn-of-the-century releases like Allen & Ginter and Gypsy Queen, it’s fair to say that almost every significant pre–World War Two set has been brought back to life in one form or the other.

The two aforementioned brands are enjoying successful runs and are incredibly popular with all types of collectors. Topps’ Allen & Ginter set, in particular, is currently celebrating an eight-year run.

Topps’ Alan & Ginter 2012 line features designs from tobacco cards of 1887 and 1888. This autographed example shows umpire Donk Denkinger.

Relying on an eclectic mix of athletes and personalities, the subject manner reflects the origins of the original set. Utilizing both standard-size trading cards (2 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches) and traditional tobacco-size miniatures (1 1/2 inches by 2 11/16 inches), the brand utilizes designs that were typical of the original release in 1887 and 1888. By incorporating elements of modern collecting like limited-edition parallels and autographs, the product combines elements of the old and new to create a highly collectible modern trading-card set.

This 2012 Topps Heritage card uses a 1963 floating-head design for the year’s top rookies.

Recently rereleased in the last couple of years is a brand that the Topps Company has periodically relied upon to deliver the collecting audience—hungry for newer, but still retro-themed products—something just for them. Enter Topps Archives. First used in the early 1990s when the company issued a reprint set of the classic 1953 Topps set, the Archives brand has been utilized from time to time over the last several years.

Once again relying on design concepts from past years, Archives doesn’t focus on a singular specific year the way Topps Heritage does. Instead, the brand includes insert elements and design layouts from multiple years, focusing primarily on those produced in the 1970s and 1980s. This is simply another way to reintroduce the hobby to kids from those generations who are now adults—and many of whom now have kids of their own, Archives provides a connection between young fathers and sons or daughters.

The three sets and brands detailed in this article are just a few of the products available to collectors who appreciate the hobby’s history. Manufacturers routinely produce a few others, including:

Sportkings multi-sport set features athletes and personalities of all stripes, including bodybuilding legend Charles Atlas.

• Golden Age by Panini America: An eclectic set focusing on the players, history and pop culture happenings of the 1950s and 1960s;

• Gypsy Queen by Topps: Another tobacco-era product that incorporates design elements taken from the original release around the turn of the 20th century;

• Goodwin Champions by Upper Deck: Similar in product configuration to many of the previously mentioned products, Goodwin relies on a checklist of often-obscure-but-desirable autographs to entice collectors;

• Sportkings by In The Game: An extremely popular annual release that celebrates and pays tribute to the greatest athletes from a wide variety of sports. These cards are designed after the original issue from the 1930s.

More than just a way of celebrating the past, retro-themed products help connect and reconnect multiple generations of collectors old and new with the hobby of collecting trading cards.


Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 20 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been the content manager for the Card Corner Club website before the company’s merger with CardboardConnection in 2011, where he is now a staff writer and multimedia content producer. Rob is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live and nationally broadcast radio show, Cardboard Connection Radio. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.

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